I recently celebrated a big birthday. I organized a party for myself that was a bit extravagant, and I had a wonderful time surrounded by family and friends. My husband helped get ready for the party and made not one peep about the cost of it. At the expense of sounding like A Material Girl, I was expecting a card or small gift of some kind from my husband and boys. I made sure they all had plenty of advanced notice. Friends and family showered me with fun presents.
But from my husband and boys: nothing.
My husband doesn't like birthdays. It is a simple fact that he is uncomfortable with celebrations of any kind, particularly birthdays, but not exculding major holidays. I think it must come from a rebellious streak, bucking against expectation. He does not like to give gifts. If he does give a gift, he likes to make sure it is not expected, either in timing or content. He is similarly uncomfortable about receiving a gift, usually forgetting to be gracious.
I, on the other hand, like presents. I don't mean something expensive or complicated. I mean a token of affection, a small thing that has meaning, shows care and thought toward the recipient. A small physical representation of the phrase "I care about you." Although it might sound shallow, I was disappointed that no gift or handmade card appeared. Of course I know that my family cares about me. But still.
OK, so I probably can't retrain my husband, but what about my boys? Does gift-giving (and receiving) reflect some sort of gender bias? Can my boys be taught how to be good gift-givers?
I consulted The Dangerous Book for Boys (http://www.dangerousbookforboys.com) tonight. I thought for sure the book would have some wise nugget about making sure you make your mom a card on her birthday-at the least. Nope, not there. The section that comes the closest really is the one on writing secret spy letters using your own urine as ink.
Then I thought back to my childhood. I know my mom did almost all the gift shopping in the family. But even if my dad was not involved in most gifting, he always did give something to my mom. I remember the story that one year he gave her a pair of rear-view mirrors for the truck she was driving at the time. That didn't go over real well, and we then had a new rule instituted: no exceedingly practical gifts. No appliances, no underwear. These are things you should buy for yourself.
I had one or two boyfriends growing up that did give great gifts. In fact, I still have them. The gifts, not the boyfriends. One is a gift given to me on my 16th birthday, a beautiful silver keychain with a heart attached, engraved with "Cinderella." The other gift, given to me when I was in college, is a pair of earrings that I like so much that I still wear them. Now I am wondering, did their mothers buy these gifts and wrap them too?
Cruising the web a bit, I found odd birthday gift advice. Like the perfect birthday present for a 40-year old is lots of candy and a ride in a Ferrari. Note that is a ride in the passenger seat, not getting to drive. This person also suggests "Another memorable 40th birthday gift would be to experience what it is like to drive a rally car on gravel and dirt, tarmac or forest stage under the tutelage of expert rally school instructors and these experiences are available at rally courses in rally cars such as Ford Escorts, Focus or even the powerful Subaru Impreza." Uh, what??
It's not always easy to buy something meaningful for someone you love. Maybe it is a lot of pressure. It takes a bit of time and thought. And it's just a nice thing to do. I'm certainly not a perfect example myself, but I try. I really hope I can find a way to teach this to my boys.